Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sam Cornish Doug Holder

Boston Poet Sam Cornish (Right) Doug Holder (Left) at Bagel Bards  Au Bon Pain  Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.
                                                      (Click on pic to enlarge)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Somerville Artist Christina Tedesco: Ability Amidst Disability

 Somerville Artist Christina Tedesco:  Ability Amidst Disability

By Doug Holder

  Christina Tedesco, a Somerville resident who suffers from cerebral palsy faces many challenges, but she remains a committed artist. Tedesco, who I met at my usual perch at the Bloc 11 CafĂ© in Union Square, wrote on her website that her art “…deals with the movement of the human body through space and time. Specifically with the control between balance and imbalance, control and the lack thereof.” “Control and the lack  thereof" are issues that Tedesco faces with her own body, and in her art.

  Tedesco works at the “Mad Oyster” studios on Bradley St. in Somerville. She has lived in Somerville for the past 10 years and she is a graduate of Tufts University and The Museum School in Boston. Of Somerville Tedesco said: “ I love the combination of the city and the suburbs. I find the arts community very down to earth here, certainly more than say the Harrison Ave. crowd in Boston. And Somerville is very easy to get around either by foot or bus.”

  Tedesco said her introduction to art was due to a mistake. She wanted to get into a specific literature class at Tufts but as it turned out it was full so she opted for a photography class.  All this lead to her desire to become an artist. And later, the budding artist moved on to sculpture and painting.

  As for her disability-- it is hardly an asset in the artworld. She said: “ The people I draw have no face. I think people often look at my disability first—not my face or personality.”   But there are advantages according to Tedesco: “ I think I have to observe more closely than the average person. I have to move at a much slower pace. I have to be very conscious of what’s around me, so I don’t fall. And part of being an artist is having the ability to concentrate.”

  Tedesco counts the artist Louise Bourgeois as an influence. She reflected: “ I feel I paint the way she did. She didn’t care about detail, but yet the content is there. Many of her subjects are faceless. She’s like me—concentrating on parts of the body.”

  Tedesco continued: “I draw in a child-like fashion. When I attempt to draw detailed faces—I feel they are not good enough.”

 Tedesco, who works at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has had mixed reactions to her work. She said” Some people like it, others find it sad or scary. My new work for instance incorporates a lot of deep and dark shadows, which may off put folks..”

 Tedesco has participated in a lot of shows in the area. Her work has surfaced at such places as the Harriet Tubman House in Boston, the State House, and Bloc 11 in Union Square, where this interview took place.

 Somerville, Mass. is a home to artists of many types. Tedesco is certainly a unique presence in the Paris of New England.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Imaginary Planet Poems by Alan Elyshevitz

Imaginary Planet

Poems by Alan Elyshevitz

Cervena Barva Press

Somerville, Massachusetts

35 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Some writers puzzle over words and phrases, positioning them, trimming them, easing them into place. Others, like Alan Elyshevitz, take their poetical wands in hand and, through a kind of grammatical gravity, spin their imaginary worlds into solid being from the dust and debris surrounding their commonplace lives.

Like the orbiting planets they mimic, these poems appear from afar to rotate seamlessly, peacefully, and, above all, with a uniform consistency. But upon closer examination the fragments of broken lives and the awful motes of death and change become quite evident.

In his poem entitled Debris Elyshevitz details the calamities inherent in the dissolution of a civilization,

The smoke won’t clear, nor the waters

recede: the sixteenth calamity

this montha record.

Fences and turnstyles have toppled,

reverting to sour metal

in a reservoir of mud and glass.

Ashes quiver in the updraft;

soggy textiles plug the drains.

The poet, intent upon creation or perhaps restoration, explores this devastated urban landscape and transforms himself into a solicitous healer with practical applications. The poem ends thusly,

… proving himself

indispensable, as his alcoholic

mother always claimed when

he dabbed her elbows, steadied

her finances, and snapped her

memory back from the storm.

Elyshevitz serves up a bit of art theory in his poem This Fragile Planet. He seems to consider both the subjectivity of the reader as well as the essence of the poem itself. He laments his lack of control over his own creation. As artists create they dissipate into their work until they themselves disappear. The poet puts it this way,

it engenders dinosaurs and


It cracks

with the slightest quake

of interrogation


pull artifacts of shame

from every breach

For years

it cultivates eccentric


In the end

it fears what we all fear


Yes, mortality spares neither poet nor poem. Something to think about.

The poem Hurricane recounts the violence that hits our placid world periodically targeting the weak, the aged, and those who through pride resist. All but the "squat dense things" of life are at risk. Debris is everywhere. Here’s the heart of the poem,

The car horns, the embarrassed medical

team, the fluids bursting from every sewer

In public shelters the dispossessed cough

into their hands like guttering candles

How they yield to the deepening blackout,

jostle, compete, exchange ingratitudes

There is no refastening dislodged pride

Nor the limbs of any man or tree…

Lot’s Wife portrays the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in exile. In fact the poem is dedicated to her. Her cottage world that Elyshevitz has spun together comprises chickens, potatoes, eggs, bad memories of her ex-husband, and her dreams of foie gras. Outside she hears only the universe’s white noise, or perhaps something more. In spite of her entrapment and the isolation of her planet, there is some comfort here. Elyshevitz explains,

Outside, the cackle of falling leaves may be

White noise or the very message you desire.

Meanwhile, for dinner you dream of foie gras

And a smuggled morsel of hope from the city

Of your sentiments. By morning the coop may

Produce a few eggs which some say contain the

Biographies of martyrs, for they taste unbearably

Sublime when accompanied by a pillar of salt.

The poet points to the protective cocoon of suburbia and concomitant dangers in his piece entitled August. The denizens of this comfortable world enjoy music, central air and spicy dips. Outside of this zone lurks vagueness and dangers. Here’s how the poem ends,

… If you squint


you can make out the city.

vague as an un-hyped investment

Hard to imagine people out there


in slow-motion Spanish. If only they

w plutonium, petroleum, paper:


A slow

news day. Feel better. No one


know has been raped or tripped a land mine.

And the metal detectors are working

just fine.

In Let Us Not Speak Of Legacy Now the poet’s persona spoon feeds his dying father. The claustrophobic scene grows more and more uncomfortable as the poet describes the punctured veins, the thickened eyes, and the strangled muscles. The description is spot on and captures the reader within its sterilized dizzy confines. The semi-private hospital room becomes a spinning planet and only the human connection between father and son allows focus. Here are some neat and also telling lines,

Encrusted in doctors’ orders,

you wear the stigmata of punctured veins,

your muscles strangled by atrophy

in a gown without pockets.

All that remains of your fussy desires

is the dusty flavor of your gums

Last but not least, take a look at the spectacular picture on the front and back covers of this book, courtesy of NASA and Caltech: Out of the Dust, A Planet is Born.

Wondrous cover. Otherworldly book.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Poet Charles Coe: Forgiving himself. Forgiving his Parents. All Sins Forgiven.

Poet Charles Coe

Poet Charles Coe: Forgiving himself. Forgiving his Parents. All Sins Forgiven.

Interview by Doug Holder

Poet Charles Coe has lost both of his parents, but he still talks with them through his poetry. In his new poetry collection from the Leap Frog Press: All Sins Forgiven: Poems for My Parents he writes about his parents with eloquence and insight. He has been around the block and realizes we are flawed, we love and hurt each other, we sin, and we forgive. In his collection he deals with the complex relations between parent and child in an evocative manner that only a skilled wordsmith could pull off. I spoke with Coe on my Somerville Community Access TV Show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: E. Ethelbert Miller, author of Fathering Words: The Making of an African-American Writer wrote of your work: "Here is a collection that captures the and intimacy within the black family that sadly goes unnoticed by much of America." Why are these qualities not noticed by society?

Charles Coe: I think a lot groups, cultural groups, ethnic groups, are portrayed by the media in pretty stereotypical ways. A lot of the time when you see a black family portrayed on a TV show or movie, you see them in the context of violence and gangs, domestic discord, sports and music. But I think there is not enough about ordinary life. A lot of the poems in my collection All Sins Forgiven are about ordinary family life.

DH: Your new collection is from the Leap Frog Press. Ownership has changed recently. Can you give me a brief history of the press and your involvement with it.

CC: Leap Frog was started in the 1990's by the marvelous poet Marge Piercy and her husband the novelist and writer Ira Wood. In 1999 they approached me to see if I was interested in submitting a manuscript for publication. A I was very excited to and we worked out a deal for my first poetry collection Picnic on the Moon. Because of my other writing and my full time job it took awhile for the next to come out All Sins Forgiven. Leap Frog was under new ownership when they published All Sins Forgiven.

DH: You have an extensive background as a jazz vocalist. Can you talk a bit about your influences?

CC: That would be a large task. But my platinum standard is Ella Fitzgerald. She is my alltime favorite vocalist.

DH: Do you ever do Scat singing?

CC: I don't focus on that as some jazz singers do. Scat is like peppering a stew. I think scat singing is one of the influences that Hip Hop artists look to for inspiration. I think in some cases the most creative writing around is Hip Hop lyrics.

DH: Your new collection deals with your late mom and dad. How has your view changed about your folks from when you were young to now in your 60's?

CC: When you are young it is very difficult to realize that your parents are actually people and that they are flawed and complex. When you are young they are viewed like your high school teachers. It is as though someone puts them in a closet and unplugs the battery, and shuts the door. And they are awakened just in time to teach the next class. The older you get you realize there are a million questions you want to ask: What were they afraid of? What were they sad about? What were they proud of? I can't have those conversations with them now because they are gone. My book is in a way a route to asking them those questions.

DH: I remember when I was writing my Master's thesis on food in the fiction of Henry Roth, my thesis advisor thought food might be a trivial theme. You use food through out your book: your father cooking pot roast, a Thanksgiving dinner, etc... Through your use of food in your poetry you really get at the texture of life.

CC: I really like to eat food. I love food...perhaps a bit too much. I think food is an incredible way to share time together--bonding, comfort and community. The knuckle heads that told you food is trivial don't know what they are talking about. They practice a form of literary snobbery. There is no subject under the sun under the sun that is trivial. The only thing that is trivial is the mind that approaches the subject. You know great poetry can make the banal profound. Bad poetry can make profound, banal. It is not the subject matter--it is the writer.

DH: Did this poetry collection give you a sense of closure?

CC: Yes and no. I am very glad that I wrote it. I wrote it to understand something about my parents. But it was not just through writing the book, but it was in the process of getting out there, plunging into readings and explore things through the questions people ask me. The idea that I came to some ultimate understanding of my parents is not the case. The people you are closest to can be the most mysterious. We are a mystery to ourselves.

DH: Tell me about your work with the Mass. Cultural Council.

CC: I have been with them for 17 years. I oversee a grant program that gives money to arts organizations. This is not targeted money. The money can be used for many things. This is the hardest money to get. Part of my job involves traveling around the state. I go around the Commonwealth to see what art organizations are doing. Porch sitting I like to call it.

DH: The title of your new collection is All Sins Forgiven. Whose sins are forgiven here?

CC: I am sort of forgiving myself for not helping them more and spending more time with them. But I am also forgiving them, for their shortcomings as well.


Never take fishing too seriously. Find a shade tree

by a creek bank to lean against on a sunny day with

a mild breeze blowing. Toss your line into the water

and set aside, for awhile, the cares of the day.

Never move too fast; in fact, try to move as little as possible.

And remembe...r; sometimes your best days fishing

will be the ones you go home empty-handed.

These are lessons my father taught me; not in words,

but in the way he’d whistle while unraveling a tangled line,

or laugh when some big catfish slipped the hook. I am

the end of my father’s line, with no one but you to teach

those things I am only now beginning to understand.

And I struggle with his final lesson, the mere fact

of his absence, an the idea that wriggles in my grasp,

like a worm I can’t seem to thread onto the hook.     --- Charles Coe

Some Plum Poems Jane Etzel

Jane Etzel

Some Plum Poems
Jane Etzel
Dove's Wing Press
ISBN: 978-0-578-10317-4
2012  $10.00

“...As the old man prepares to resume his walk,
he sits a moment longer,
amazed to see these solitary birds

gathered together
in a flock on the sides of the dinghy -

a nautical vision
worthy of being called poem.”

This small book of poems plum the depth of what the poet hopes
we may hear. Love for one another:

“...The moon's reflection sparkled
across the water,

and I thought God
had flung a handful of diamonds
to create such a beautiful dazzle!

looking out over the moonlit ocean,

I believe He still does.”

Etzel's work reflects how she bites into the fruit and tastes
the sweet meat words offer and these poems give thanks:

“ develop loving relationships
not formed
because of too much solitude

for unexplored decisions
in colorful consequences...”

We the readers delight in these truthful poetic expressions given
by the poet from her faith. I appreciate the poetry for what it says
and for what is written about gratitude.

“Encircle me Lord
so I may see with Your eyes...”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review